Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still Teammates

TigerBlog isn't quite done with lacrosse for the 2015 season just yet. Had it not been for Bill Tierney and his seventh NCAA title, TB would have started yesterday where he starts today.

Princeton's 1997 team was on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field Monday afternoon, honored at halftime as the winner of the NCAA's "Champion of Champions" contest. TigerBlog came down out of the press box to say hello and take a picture of the team.

It's amazing how many players are so instantly recognizable after 18 years. They all have the same exact faces.

One thing that is difficult for TigerBlog all these years later is to remember who was on what team. Was he a freshman in 1997? Didn't he play in 2001? Hadn't he graduated by 1996?

Their faces, though, are the same as ever.

The 1997 team went 15-0 and defeated Maryland 19-7 in the final. The 12-goal margin is still the largest in an NCAA championship game.

And there they were Monday. On the field, together again.

There were 48 players on the team in 1997, and 40 of them were on the field Monday in Philadelphia. They were joined by former assistant coach David Metzbower, now an assistant at North Carolina. And athletic trainer George O'Neil and Bryce Chase, who are both still with the program.

And TigerBlog, of course.

After the brief ceremony at midfield - which included remarks from captain Ben Strutt - the team came off the field and posed for a few pictures. Then it was time to leave the field, as the teams were coming back for the second half.

Did the 1997 team just scatter? Head back upstairs to their seats and their families?


First they gathered in a huddle. Then someone - TigerBlog thinks it was Jon Hess - yelled "1-2-3," to which everyone else responded "let's go Tigers."

It was a wonderful moment. It was the kind of moment that sends shivers down TB's spine.

It was, to him, what Princeton Athletics is all about. Here was a group of men 18 years removed from playing together, and yet they were still teammates.

"1-2-3." "Let's go Tigers."

That could have been any moment of the 1997 season. End of a practice. Start of the second quarter against Rutgers. Any time.

And here they are now, what, in their late 30s, approaching 40, and they've never forgotten who they are to each other.

Princeton Athletics. A great experience for four years. A greater experience for a lifetime.

Okay, more lacrosse stuff.

There were three disputed goal calls in the championship game, which, if you forgot, Denver won 10-5 over Maryland.

If you're a Terp fan, by the way, you can be excused for not being a Tierney fan, now that your team is 0-3 against him in NCAA finals.

Denver had two disallowed goals in the game. One was on an interference on the goalie call that preceded the goal. One was a call that the Denver player left his feet on his own and ended up in the crease. One was a Maryland goal that stood when it was very close to being an in-the-crease violation before the shot.

Of those three, two were Denver goals that didn't stand and one was a Maryland one that did.

TigerBlog has seen the replay of all three plays a bunch of times now. He thinks the interference on the goalie should have been a goal. He thinks Maryland should have been no goal. He thinks the in-the-crease was close and could have gone either way. The fact that that goal also came as time expired in the third quarter added a did-it-beat-the-buzzer dimension to it.

What's TB's point?

He's glad that there's no replay.

The refs made the calls. The game moved on. They didn't affect the outcome.

Had there been replay, the game would have stopped, the refs would have spent forever reviewing the microscopic calls and nobody would be any closer to knowing whether they were right or wrong anyway.

Beyond that, the refs would be hesitant to make calls, fearing what replay might show.

This way is so much better. Make a call. Move on. Do not destroy the flow of the game.

Of course, replay in lacrosse is inevitable. It's coming. The "get it right no matter what" argument will win out.

Except that's not what happens. There is no right or wrong on any of those three calls. The 10 best lacrosse refs could look at those three replays for an hour each and might come back with a 5-5 vote on each call.

Plus, one thing that is obvious is that the Denver player who scored the disallowed goalie interference goal was 100% slashed as it happened, with no call. Nothing is worse than having replay not give you a definitive answer to the situation that is permissible to review while an obvious uncalled penalty has to be left uncalled.

Anyway, that's TB's take on replay in lacrosse.

What else?

Maryland's women won the championship Sunday night, which meant that a Maryland win in the men's game would have meant that the Terps would have matched Princeton's 1994 feat of sweeping  both championships. That, of course, did not happen, so the 1994 Tigers stand alone still.

Speaking of the women's game, Maryland ended the semifinal by stalling the final 7:20 or so and the final by stalling the final three minutes or so.

There are no timing rules in the women's game, so stalling is a great tactic, especially if you can do it, much like the "four corners" pre-shot clock basketball strategy was a winning one for Dean Smith.

What it doesn't make for is good theater. There wasn't one person in the press box at the men's Final Four who enjoyed watching it, and in fact it drew nothing but universal scorn.

This isn't what you want from your showcase event. TigerBlog won't pretend to know enough about the way the women's game works to say how the rules should be tweaked and what would be effective.

He does know that if the women's game is trying to market itself, it needs to do something. He's never talked to Princeton women's coach Chris Sailer about this. Actually, next time he sees her he will.

And that, it appears, is it for 2015.

TigerBlog will remember it for how cold it was all spring. He'll remember the epic performances of Kip Orban and Mike MacDonald and the ridiculous way Zach Currier plays lacrosse. He'll remember the agonizing realization that Princeton wasn't going to be in the NCAA tournament when the selections were being announced.

He'll remember that he wanted to tweet something like "great job by Sergio Perkovic with four goals as Notre Dame tied Denver in the semifinals. It still left him 12 goals back of Orban." TigerBlog is bitter that Orban wasn't first-team All-America.

He'll remember a fairly entertaining NCAA tournament across the board that lacked a truly great game, which is fine, since the 2015 NCAA tournament was all about Bill Tierney and the history he made by taking Denver to the title.

And he'll remember working at his 21st Final Four in 24 years.

Barring something unforeseen, he'll be back next year, again at the Linc.

Hopefully Princeton will be there with him. He will start 2016 optimistic about that, as he always does. 

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